EyeforTravel North America 2018

October 2018, Las Vegas

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What inflight WiFi needs for take-off

Passengers definitely want it but challenges remain for airlines introducing WiFi. Still the commitment is there and progress is being made

Not all airlines are ready for take off when it comes to introducing WiFi. A recent survey from satellite group Inmarsat says that around one-in-four planes currently in service offer some form of WiFi onboard. It continues that less than half of passengers surveyed (45%) have had access to inflight WiFi in the past year. However, it is clear that the demand is there. The survey finds that 65% of passengers who found WiFi connectivity available in-flight elected to use the service.

That is good news for Inmarsat which, in partnership with Deutsche Telekom, has developed the European Aviation Network (EAN), a purpose-built system for in-flight communications. Combining high capacity satellite coverage with a complementary 4G LTE ground network, the network is a world first and aims to to provide high-speed coverage across all 28 European Union states, plus Norway and Switzerland.

On land, consumers increasingly expect free WiFi. However, according to e-Dreams, today only eight airlines - EmiratesJetBlueNorwegianTurkish AirlinesAir ChinaPhilippine AirlinesHong Kong Airlines and Nok Air - are delivering (free WiFi that is).

Michael Childers, a representative of Lufthansa Systems, who sits on the board of directors of APEX, the airline passenger experience association, says: “One of the concerns that airlines have brought to APEX on this matter is that installing onboard connectivity is expensive, but the ways of measuring the quality of service vary from supplier-to-supplier.”

45% of passengers had access to inflight WiFi this year

1 in 4 planes currently in service are connected

65% of passengers who found connectivity elected to use the service

$14.9bn - what satellite based inflight connectivity could save airlines

8 – the number of airlines offering free WiFi

He continues: “This makes it difficult to compare competing systems. Of particular concern is that many of the measurements offered are at an ‘aircraft level’ rather than a passenger level.”

Childers, who will be speaking at EyeforTravel Las Vegas, argues that this makes it difficult for an airline to understand what quality of service they are investing in for their passengers.

Satellite opportunity

In response to these concerns, the APEX Technology Committee, which Childers chairs, has created a ‘Connectivity Working Group’. This working group is chaired by Stephan Schulte of Lufthansa Technik, and is supported by representatives from Inmarsat and Boeing.

At the APEX Technology Committee’s TECH forum in Los Angeles in January this year, Schulte announced the results of an APEX survey that showed the major differences in perspective between airlines and vendors. An action item of the working group is to determine a basic set of parameters that allow for derivation of all service-level Key Performance Indicators (KPI).

Satellite-based inflight connectivity could save airlines US$14.9 billion in annual operating costs

At the same forum, the London School of Economics, in association with Inmarsat, revealed its research findings in Sky High Economics: Evaluating the Economic Benefits of Connected Airline Operations. The research showed that satellite-based inflight connectivity could save airlines US$14.9 billion in annual operating costs.

Says Childers: “Once airlines have a better means of measuring connectivity and quality of service from a passenger perspective, and once airlines consider the broader value proposition of inflight connectivity, the rate of adoption seems likely to increase.”

Michael Childers, an expert in airline passenger experience, will be speaking in Las Vegas (Oct 18-19) alongside other leading industry executives 

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